Press Eyes Exit Strategy

Mar 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

It’s what some 200 journalists still at their posts in Baghdad don’t know that could kill them.
Should they stay or should they go? If they go, when should they go?
They only thing their news organizations know is that they cannot count on the Pentagon to give them adequate warning to vacate the Iraqi capital, where all journalists must operate through the Ministry of Information, which is expected to be under the guns of U.S. forces when they open fire on Iraq.
Some foreign press began pulling out last week.
While none of the U.S. TV news organizations appeared to be packing their bags on Friday, the morning after President Bush’s “People, get ready” prime-time press conference, all were spending more time analyzing anything they knew-or thought they knew-about the Pentagon’s war plan.
“It is something we assess every day, because it is not safe in Baghdad,” said a network news executive.
“We’re monitoring almost on an hourly basis,” said a news executive at another network. “We have made clear to all our people in the region that if they feel their safety is in question at all, they can pull out unilaterally without so much as a call to us. That said, if we get to a point where we back at headquarters fear for their safety, we will pull them out.”
Peter Arnett is in the Baghdad press corps as a correspondent for National Geographic Explorer. His biggest claim to fame was staked on the night in 1991 when U.S. bombs started falling on Baghdad and he and CNN teammates Bernard Shaw and John Holliman described the scene to the outside world via a presciently arranged phone line that functioned throughout the night.
The betting from his counterparts is that Mr. Arnett, whose deal also makes him available to report live for MSNBC, which carries Explorer, and presumably NBC News, intends to stay in Baghdad no matter how dangerous it becomes, unless he is ordered out by the Iraqis or the United States.
But another of the numerous questions for which there are no answers at this point is whether any foreign journalist in Baghdad-where the mere possession of a videophone is against the law-would be able to get information or video out during the opening hours of an attack, when the Pentagon is likely to deploy missiles with the capacity to jam communications frequencies.
“Nobody’s got that answer,” said another network news executive. “But at least when the blackout was lifted, you would be there.”
Back at home, the news channels and network news divisions planned to spend the weekend putting the final pieces in place for their TV war rooms. “We are about as ready as we can possibly be,” said one news executive.